Walking in Memphis with fellow Malaysians

It was a work-cum-leisure trip to the United States. I was accompanying a Malaysian band for a music festival.

My job was to take photographs and videos to archive the trip. Thanks to movies, television and friends, I kind of knew what to expect from New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Although Memphis was not a name I didn’t know, I couldn’t say I knew what to expect.

I knew it was home to Graceland, and I was familiar with the song ‘Walking in Memphis’.

I was pretty sure we wouldn’t meet another Malaysian there. After all, why would Malaysians go to the south of the US.

A few days before our trip, we were pleasantly surprised to find out there was a Malaysian community there.

We connected with them on WhatsApp, and they seemed nice enough. My friends and I made sure we did our PR.

We tried to be nice and not say anything “wrong”. We wanted to say all the right things so that they would attend the band’s performances.

But, we were unaware of what happens when you cross Malaysian graces with warm southern hospitality.

A day after we landed in Memphis, a few of the Malaysians called at our hotel with a box of goodies for breakfast.

They didn’t do a quick drive-by either. They took time away from their busy schedules (they all have full-time jobs) to sit and chat with us to find out our schedule.

The next few days, we interacted with them more. We found out they really wanted to help and get to know us.

They wanted to know if we needed any assistance. They weren’t just asking for the sake of asking. Their generosity extended to sponsoring some of our transportation.

The barbecue dinner they treated us to was a bonus. We got to hear from Malaysians who have lived in the US for two to three decades, speak in Bahasa Melayu and crack Malaysian jokes.

For a while, it felt like we were in the mamak, not a Memphis, restaurant. It was nice to see that although they made a home elsewhere, they have never forgotten their roots.

They attended the performances on all days, arriving with kompang (traditional musical instrument), too. If the boys in the band were nervous being on a big stage 15,000km away from home, the Malaysians made sure they warmed up fast.

The group made enough of a racket to remind the band of their presence. They brought Malaysian flags and wore T-shirts with the Jalur Gemilang (Malaysian flag) on them.

There was never any doubt that they were proud to see Malaysians on stage.

Some of them drove 45 minutes to be there with us. Most, if not all, were not active in the arts scene and wouldn’t attend music performances under any other circumstance.

But they were there for us. They didn’t come alone either – they brought children, spouses and partners.

All of them had smiles on their faces. The warmth they radiated could have filled our hearts for months.

The 36-hour journey to the US tested our mettle, and when two of us contracted Covid-19, it challenged our resolve further.

It was our first time getting the disease, and our symptoms were bad.

Our Malaysian friends came to our rescue. There was no hesitation. They helped us get a doctor’s appointment and the medication needed.

They took turns cooking for us. We had bubur, nasi lemak, and fried rice. Everything delicious and comforting they could cook, they rustled up for us.

We can only imagine how early they woke up to start cooking meals that they sent to us each morning.

They checked on us frequently. Although they gave us time to rest, they were genuinely concerned and made sure our spirits were up.

When we needed to fly home, they drove us to the airport at unearthly dawn hours.

There are a lot of kind people in the world. It’s a fact we often forget, because we keep seeing bad news daily.

We met some of the nicest, kindest and most generous people in Memphis. They went above and beyond what most people would have done for us.

We’re not even sure we would do the same if we were in their shoes.

The Malaysians in Memphis didn’t just welcome us with open arms; they invited us into their homes and their hearts. They treated us like their siblings. They treated us like family.

We will probably never be able to repay them. But they will always have a place in our hearts, too.

It’s comforting to know that we travelled halfway around the world and found people who would take us in and look after us well.

901 Malaysia, thank you for making our US trip extraordinary. We went there hoping to wow Memphians with music.

In the end, we were the ones bowled over and humbled by your love.

The writer sometimes takes photographs and videos of the local indie music scene under the pseudonym MYIndie Music. Her self-funded trip to Memphis was to document Azmyl & the Truly Asia’s performances at the Beale Street Music Festival in May.